Retailers, if we’re being honest, have always seen success with influencer marketing—just back in the “good old days” it was called “word of mouth.” You know what I’m talking about: Dick buys a car and tells all his pals about the great deal he received on his trade-in. Tomorrow. When he gets to work. Or Jane buys a washing machine and shares her incredible customer service story with her book club. Next Thursday. At 6:00 pm. (Yes, I’m being deliberately sexist in those examples, because “Good old days.”)

Fast forward fifty years or so, and today, while word of mouth still plays a huge role in a retailer’s success, the speed at which these stories are shared over social media is the game changer. Couple that with the “always on” world we live in, and the powerful sway many digital media influencers hold over consumers, and you have a scenario where retailers are setting aside more and more money for online influencer marketing efforts. The extra money set aside to support influencer marketing also has a ripple effect when it comes to trust, which grows as more and more retailers use (and see results with!) different types of strategies, outreach, and digital platforms. Smart retailers are experimenting and starting to take risks with their online campaigns, risks that some highly regulated, high security industries simply can’t afford to take.

Controlling the Message Using Influencer Marketing

Where old-fashioned word of mouth would lead to results (slower results, but results nonetheless), you really didn’t have a “say” in what was, well, being said. Of course, in the digital space, you don’t really have a say in what Joe Consumer is going to post about you, either (best to keep your products and customer service ship-shape!), but you can gently lead the messaging and content your influencers disseminate on their social platforms, right?

Well, one of the most interesting ways retailers are starting to shift when it comes to influencer marketing feels so simple, so obvious, so potentially effective, that it kind of hurts: They are turning word-of-mouth on it’s head by turning their customers into their influencers.

Customers Are the New Celebrities

More than 80 percent of consumers say they make purchase decisions based on their friends’ social media recommendations. That’s a pretty impressive number, and precisely why you should consider taking the time to source, track, and build relationships with your top consumers.

Zappos and Birchbox are just two of many online retailers who are winning with the Customers as Celebrities strategy—and the biggest reason for their success is the legwork they put into planning these campaigns. (Caveat: the people they choose are already social media savvy, but they’re not superstars or highly paid athletes.) As reported on mytotalretail.com, Zappos does a ton of research to identify and source bloggers and influencers “…that are representative of its brand personality—quirky, upbeat, fun and stylish—to produce authentic content focused on Zappos’ products and customer service.” Birchbox, a company that sells monthly boxes of sample-sized grooming products, even goes so far as to allow influencers to curate their own, special monthly boxes, and take the reigns on their corporate Instagram account on certain holidays. Birchbox certainly wouldn’t be allowing their influencers this freedom if they hadn’t been actively tracking how many likes and shares these types of “risk-campaigns” resulted in. The end result? Renewed buzz over their monthly boxes and fresh, non-corporate, user-generated content.

And don’t think this type of influencer mashup isn’t important for a traditional brick and mortar store: Research shows that “…even while in-store, consumers still feel the pull of online influencers as 70 percent of consumers say they sometimes/often/all of the time check online reviews from their phones while shopping.” If you haven’t already—even if you’re a small business—get thee to the web, and get thee a social media presence.

Whether you’re selling food, fashion, grooming and lifestyle products, household goods, or electronics, retailers of all shapes and sizes, digital and otherwise, have almost unlimited opportunities today to enhance their social media presence, influencer marketing strategies, and overall customer experience. And it’s safe to say that the company that keeps their sights on what’s right in front of them—their most vocal, most loyal customers—and brings these “word of marketing” specialists into the fold, will rise head and shoulders above the competition.